It’s a total-body workout that challenges your heart, lungs, legs, core, back, lats and your mind. As one of the most effective cardio workouts available, rowing offers a variety of benefits for overall health, including aerobic capacity, which is a fancy way of saying your heart’s ability to do work.
Like other cardio equipment, the rowing machine usually has a digital screen to show your distance, calories burned, strokes per minute and more. Having these options can help you vary your workouts: are you going for time, distance, energy used, or a specific pace?
Using the rower: Before you hop on the rower, understand how to be efficient with it. Strap your feet into foot clips, set the damper (lower for less resistance), grab the handlebars wide, and roll through the ball of your foot to the heel as you press away. The handles should come to your bra-line, actually making contact with your chest. Reach the handles back as far as you can to the beginning point, keeping your chain straight (no slack).
Aerobic to anaerobic levels: It won’t take long for your lungs to feel the burn of this workout. You can keep a slower pace for longer distances, only using the aerobic fuel system of the heart and lungs. This means you can talk through it. Once you tap into the anaerobic levels, there’s no talking, just heavy, powerful breathing. Only hang out in this zone (also known as zone 3) for a short time–no more than 30 seconds for advanced levels.
Why do I want to reach an anaerobic zone? If you’re using the rowing machine for interval training – slow-going for two minutes followed by a 30-second sprint – then you’ll want to take advantage of your time in zone 3. Your body switches gears: fat-burning in the slower sections and carb-burning in the fast-paced bursts.
When your body switches to carb-burning, the magic happens. Your metabolism increases, calorie-burning begins and continues for hours after you leave the gym and the release of the human growth hormone occurs. This hormone is responsible for increasing lean muscle mass while decreasing body fat (score!).
Sculpting the shoulders and back: These can be tough areas to tone and sculpt. Rowing improves the muscles along the spine, which gives you better posture. It also works the muscles between the shoulder blades and the shoulder-cap muscles, ultimately trimming unwanted back fat. Watch more exercises for toning your back here.
Triceps, biceps, and lats, oh my: The biceps direct the pulling motion of the handle as you bring it back to your chest and the triceps guide the pushing motion as you return. Almost every muscle group of the upper body is activated during the driving part of the movement. Click here to see a breakdown of technique.
Engaging the core: Rowing is a bit robotic in technique, and it can all fall apart if the abs stop working. Pull your belly button into the spine, squeezing your core as you pull back. This is your steering wheel for the movement. The abs release as you glide the chain back into the rower. The squeeze-and-release is like a resisted crunch.
Holy glutes and quads: The legs and the lungs share the bulk of this workload. As you push your body away, you drive through the heels, squeezing your glutes. It’s essentially a super fast leg press. Since your leg muscles require so much oxygen, your heart rate increases the harder and faster you press. Who knew you could do a booty workout sitting down?
The rower can be an excellent tool for endurance training as well as sprinting. If you're interested in learning what your limits feel like, hop on a rower and give it a try. You'll be able to track your progress using the digital screen display each time.